I AM suffering withdrawal symptoms. It has been a month since I’ve thrown a line in the water, and I am in urgent need of an emergency fishing experience.
As luck would have it, the Mediterranean and in particular Chania harbour on Crete is virtually right outside my door. Here the ancient Venetians stored their war-galleys, launching them whenever danger threatened, and ruling the known world for centuries with their naval might based at this very spot. What, I ask rhetorically, could be a more propitious spot into which to cast a line?
A few Euros supplies me with a small telescopic fishing rod, minimal gear and some bait. I am set for my “fix”.
I spend a couple of hours fishing from the ancient fortress wall just outside the old town. The surroundings are idyllic, the weather is balmy (in relative terms), and the fact that fish are biting but not being hooked is a matter of importance only to those who think fishing is primarily about catching fish. I move to the inner harbour, fishing from a small rock jetty projecting from the breakwater into the harbour. The snow-capped mountains loom over the town; the ancient lighthouse and harbour entrance is just up to my right; down to my left is about 400 metres of sheltered water, with boats of all sizes and descriptions in a small marina. This is a good place to be, especially with a fishing rod in hand.
But the Gods are cruel to those who are lulled by their temporary calm. With one sudden and unforeseen gust of wind, my cloth cap is whipped from my head and deposited in the harbour!
Now, a brief word about my cloth cap. It is an excellent cloth cap. It is simple and yet elegant in design. It is supremely functional, that function being to keep warm the top of my head while simultaneously providing an obstacle to the rays of the sun which would otherwise take painful advantage of my relative absence of scalp hair. It has been performing these functions for several years. Its navy blue colour has changed a little in that time under the influence of rain, sun, and cranial exudations. It has moulded itself to me, and I in return have become peculiarly attached to it. We are a pair. We are comfortable with each other in the way of those who have intimately shared many experiences. I do not wish to overstate the relationship, but my cloth cap is more than a mere object of wool and felt. I like to think that the feelings are reciprocated.
Imagine then my dismay as I saw it land upon the water, and realised that it was almost certainly destined for an ignominious end beneath waters which had suddenly been converted in my mind from pleasant repositories of fish into malicious devourers of boon companions. It had landed on its crown, and therefore initially floated high in the water, being carried away down the harbour by the influence of tide and wind. I quickly retrieved my line and made a number of casts, trying to hook the cap and thus achieve a rescue. Alas, though close the casts narrowly missed their target and the cap was shortly carried beyond my range, still proudly floating high in the water as if obstinately refusing to concede defeat despite the apparent certainty of its imminent demise.
I quickly gathered my belongings and started scuttling along the breakwater, keeping abreast of my cranial companion as it resisted the efforts of the wavelets to fill it and thus consign it to a watery fate. I made a few more casts from the breakwater – some heartbreakingly close, but none precise enough to hook the cap. I noticed that the wind was carrying the cap down and across the harbour in the direction of the marina, and I realised that if only it could maintain the struggle and stay afloat for long enough, I might be able to make an improbable rescue on the far side of the harbour. With a shouted exhortation of encouragement to the brave little chapeau, I abandoned my vigil and took off at some speed down the breakwater and around to the far side of the harbour.
Imagine, gentle reader, my feelings when upon reaching that furthest shore and gazing out up the harbour, fearing the worst in the form of an empty and desolate expanse of water, I spied my cap still maintaining its struggle against insurmountable odds! By now it was riding low in the water, even the accumulation of my oily exudations being gradually overcome by the remorseless action of the ocean. Waterlogged but manfully keeping its bill above the waves, it drifted slowly into the marina.
My efforts to provide succour and relief to my poor cap involved me rushing from pontoon to pontoon, calculating which one would be the landfall for the cap if only it could survive that long. Picture, if you will, the sight of an aged and agitated fisherman leaping from pontoon to pontoon calling out cries of encouragement to some unseen victim in the water. Not surprisingly this attracted the attention of some local Cretan denizens loitering on the foreshore. I regret to say that their initial concern for the ‘victim’ changed to raucous hilarity when they realised that my rescue efforts were directed to a cloth cap which by now was barely visible above the waves. In short, I am sorry to report that I suspect they regarded me as a figure of fun and were entirely insensitive to my deeper feelings. Twice my brave little cap floated just past the end of my outstretched fishing rod. In desperation I leapt from boat to boat as the pernicious tide seemed determined to foil my attempts at the last moment. Leaping from boat to boat at a pontoon is, I must say, a fairly unstable and precarious activity and one which is inconsistent with maintaining one’s dignity. I became aware that my audience was now barracking loudly for me to join my cap in the water – a fate which I only narrowly avoided – and I am almost sure I saw money changing hands as wagers were laid about the fate of me and my cap. At last, from the stern of a moored sailboat I finally snagged my cap just as it was about to give up the struggle, and I snatched it from that fate which has been the experience of countless mariners – those for whom their only grave is the sea!
I lifted my sodden cap triumphantly above my head and brandished it at the crowd of Cretans who by now were almost helpless with laughter, but who had the good grace to salute my passage with applause and cries of “Bravo” – to which acclamation I confess I felt I was entitled.
So now back in my room, my faithful cap hanging from a hook under the air conditioner after being given a rehabilitative wash in warm fresh water, I reflect that although I landed no fish, I suspect my satisfaction at what I retrieved from the ocean exceeds the satisfaction of any other Cretan fisherperson this day.
Such is fishing!
All’s well that ends well – the author sporting with his much-loved headwear.